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The Government are committed to ensuring that training opportunities are appropriate for all young people, including those with special needs.
Does the Minister agree that that reply is totally inadequate when one considers training schemes for young people with special needs? The Harington scheme in my constituency, for example, which has been widely praised by many, including Ministers at the Department, has to struggle year in and year out because its budget is not ring fenced by the training and enterprise council. Is it not time that its budget was ring fenced so that it did not have to rely on a surplus from the TEC? Is it not time that the fine words of his Department were matched by action?
Madam Speaker, I listened to your exhortation for short answers. Had I taken longer on the first one, I could have told the hon. Lady about everything that we are doing for young people with special needs. I could have told her about all the additional financial help available through a number of routes. The training and enterprise council may provide separate enhancement payments for those with special needs. My Department may provide extra funds, and we do so in many cases. Most important, there are special arrangements to pay for low achievement outcomes, in terms of word power and number power, for special needs trainees. I could have told the hon. Lady about the funding pilot scheme now run by the north London TEC showing that the starts and outcomes—based youth training programme includes a commitment to pay premiums for special needs trainees. A range of measures is in place. The hon. Lady is right to identify a group of trainees who need special help, and they are getting it from the Government.
Does my hon. Friend recognise the considerable contribution of charities in that area of training? Will he look carefully at the arrangements being made between TECs and charities? In the longer term, will he consider splitting the training of those who present particular difficulties from the rest of the responsibilities of TECs, which in many cases would be better employed raising the general prosperity of their area?
We recognise the specific and important role that charities play and we have looked recently at how we can assist them in that. We considered the idea of some sort of standardised contract and we are talking to the TEC national council about how charities can be helped in that respect. However, I am not keen on the idea of separating those with special needs as it is a cross-party belief that overall integration into mainstream training and education is, wherever possible, the best way to help those with special needs.
Will not special needs trainees, many of whom need longer periods in training to achieve a successful outcome, be seen as too great a risk—some providers already regard them as such—because the Government's payment by results scheme has forced them to cut corners? When will the Minister take the right action and ensure that those with special needs are treated properly, rather than in the charitable way that he described in answer to an earlier question?
We recognise that those with special needs must have particular attention paid to their needs. If the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) had done his homework, he would have discovered that in the training for work programme, which goes national with a payment by results system on 1 April, we have specifically ring fenced the number of starts for those with special needs. We are paying substantial premiums for their achievements so that if they are unable, understandably, to get the higher levels of national vocational qualifications they will receive massive premiums for achieving lower NVQs than would be the case for mainstream trainees. Our action is right and proper. On the youth training programme for special needs trainees in the younger age group, we shall be looking at similar measures as we move that programme towards a starts and outcomes funding system at some stage in the future.
The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but he does not know what he is talking about. The simple fact is that we do not have starts and outcomes in the YT scheme, other than in pilot programmes. As I said to the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), special arrangements operate in those pilot programmes to protect those with special needs and to provide extra premiums.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that training for young people today, irrespective of whether they have special needs, is better than it has ever been in our history? Does he also agree that it is extremely encouraging to note the number of 16 and 17-year-olds who are in full-time education or training?
My hon. Friend properly identifies the tremendous improvement in staying-on rates. That is a tribute to all that the Government have done to improve the range of opportunities for young people. For instance, the development of general national vocational qualifications to provide an alternative vocational route for people to carry on into further education has been a major step forward and a major contributor to the improved staying-on rate. The massive expansion in higher education opportunities is also a great tribute to the Government. We have provided more opportunities for young people than any Government in history, particularly the last Labour Government.